Background: Physical child abuse affects 9 in every 1,000 children in the United States and associated traumatic injuries are often identified by the healthcare system. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified risk factors for physical child abuse and increased avoidance of the healthcare system. This study examined the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on presentation and severity of physical child abuse. Methods: A retrospective, cross-sectional study utilizing the Pediatric Health Information System was performed. An interrupted time series analysis estimated the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the number of children <15 years old presenting with physical child abuse to children's hospitals from March 1st to June 30th of 2020 by comparing to those presenting during the same period for years 2016–2019. Hierarchical regression models estimated the effect of the pandemic on likelihood of operative intervention, ICU admission, traumatic brain injury, and mortality. Results: Over the study period, 20,346 physical child abuse encounters were reported by 47 children's hospitals. An interrupted times series model predicted a significant decline in cases due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, representing a deficit of 2,645 cases (p = 0.001). Children presenting during the pandemic had increased odds of requiring ICU admission (p = 0.03) and having a traumatic brain injury in those under 5 years of age (p=<0.001). Conclusions: The number of children with physical child abuse presenting to children's hospitals significantly declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, but those that did were more likely to be severe. The pandemic may be a risk factor for worse outcomes associated with physical child abuse.
- Child abuse
- Non-accidental trauma in children
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health